Bad air, bad health

Since last weekend Coco has been feeling bad, not sick just tired and always out of breath.  I was thinking it was mainly due to the pregnancy except I was feeling a little tired too.  Monday my chest was tight and that never good sign of coughing was coming on.  I was then concerned she may be catching a cold and I may too. 
 
I went to an website for expats in Shanghai and found a current thread talking about the air quality.  Aparently we were not the only ones having problems.  Shanghai is a large city in a country that is trying to clean up its environment, but not making that much headway due to all the progress of a growing county and economy.  Shanghai has always been known for poor air quality, but this past week has been very very bad.  Despite my tight chest, taste of blood in the back of my throat, and my wife’s constant problems catching her breath I found proof of how bad the problem is. 
 
Expats here in Shanghai were complaigning of their carbon monoxide dectors going off every 30 minutes.  Now I know if this were the actual case then people would be dropping like flies around here as this is a very poisionous and deadly gas.  One person stated the sensors everyone had and was complaigning about going off (there were about 5 or 6 people complaigning of this!) was due to the machines being out of calibration due to dust, greese, dirt, and household polutents that interfer with the sensors.  But still everyone here is complaigning about bad smells, poor breathing, and feeling ill… this points to a real problem.
 
One person was kind enough to point out a website that measuers and posts the air quality for Shanghai every day, and you can search dates for historical reference too.  So me being the research hound I am, thanks to my college degree, I compiled a series of charts and formulas to track the air quality since I have come to Shanghai.  The stats come from the Chinese government so I hope they are accurate.  I have compiled the historical data based on 3 figyres PM10, SO2, NO2.  PM10 is the measure of particle matter above 10 microns in the atmosphere, this is mainly soot from factories, cars, busses, burning farmer’s fields, construction dust, and things like that.  SO2 is sulfur dioxide, it is the stuff that causes a stink, becomes caustic when mixed with hydrogen (acid rain) and causes dry and irritated eyes, tight lungs, and burning in soft tissue if the levels are high enough.  NO2 is nitrogen dioxide, it is the gas that if high enough will cause real damage as it is toxic in higher levels.  It is colorless and orderless but causes headaches, nausia, and can not be tolerated for long periods.
 
In China they have followed guidelines similar to those in the US published by the EPA.  Here they have 3 classes, <50 is class 1, <100 and >50 is class 2, and <200 and >100 is class 3, what is disturbing is on the website they actually have a measurement of >200 which would be almost certainly hazardous to anyones health.  So doing my homework and brushing off some old Excel skills I came up with an interesting tool for finding out how bad the air here in Shanghi really is, or isn’t. 
 
These measurements cover the past 252 days, just a little longer then I have been in Shanghai as I moved here in the middle of March and not March 1st.  For the month of November so far the average PM10 reading is 98.7, SO2 is 65, and NO2 is 53.6.  Four of the past seven days were over 100 for PM10, and only one day of the past seven was even relatively close to the 50’s as the rest were not far from 100 at all.  This means there is a large amount of physical mater in the air here, making it gritty and sooty.  SO2 levels for the month are also well above the 50’s making the air acidic and smelling bad.  Only three of the past seven days has NO2 readings in the normal 50’s range while the rest were almost as high as the SO2.  Conclusion… November is a very bad month to be breathing air in Shanghai so far!  As for causes, the expat website was stating a low pressure system hanging over the region, farmers burning their fields, winter dry air allowing more particles to float longer in the air, etc, etc. 
 
Since March 1st there has only been 64 of the 252 days that have had normal PM10 levels, and the other polutents levels are tied to PM10 meaning if it is high usually the others follow suit.  Conversly there were 27 days of polutents above the 100 mark for PM10, but fortunately no days of SO2 or NO2 above 100.  The number of days where the levels were between 51 and 100 were alarmingly high, 161 for PM10, 88 for SO2, and 22 for NO2.  So what does all this really mean?  I haven’t begun to investigate American cities I lived in for a comparison yet, but I intend to.  The one thing that does concern me is the long term health effects this bad air will have on my wife and myself, and our new child who will be here in a couple of months.  I know raising a child in such air can lead to asthma and other problems.  It concerns me on many levels as I have to worry for others then myself now.  I really hope the trends I have identified over the past 252 days can be countered by better governance and regulation of polutant contributors here in Shanghai soon.
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2 Responses to Bad air, bad health

  1. Unknown says:

    Hello.
    I thought that perhaps a good air cleaner would help you, at least in your home. It has made a big difference for me. An American company called Gaiam has really good ones that work.  http://www.realgoods.com    The one I have is the Healthmate HEPA Jr. and I keep it in my bedroom. The filter only has to be changed twice a decade and it can run 24/7. It has 3 speeds so it can be quiet at night.  The stats they have on it are pretty impressive for what it removes from the air. If you are (understandably) worried about your family\’s health, its worth looking in to. Good Luck!  P.S. love the blog.

  2. coco says:

    I hope weather in Shanghai is getting better now. Miss you a lot!

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